The 2015 Why Vote books

After discovering that the University library had Biteback’s ‘Why Vote 2015′ books on the shelves, I thought they might be interesting to read to get an idea of the parties’ policies and presentation before the official manifestos come out. This plan was somewhat scuppered by the library not having a copy of the Green book (which seems to have been produced after the others, possibly when they started rising in the polls), and the UKIP book having already been checked out for the Easter vacation by someone else. Still, that left me with three books to look at, and the probability of UKIP’s policy remaining the same between the manifesto launch and election day, let alone between the book and the manifesto, being rather slim.

However, even amongst those three, there’s a question as to how much two of them actually represent the policy of the party they’re ostensibly about and how much they’re just about the author pushing his own agenda and settling some scores. This is the problem with entrusting a book like this to a single author: how much are they going to let their own views eclipse those of their party?

whyvotelabThe one that doesn’t fall into this trap is Why Vote Labour, where Dan Jarvis has written the introduction and conclusion, but in between has got various Labour people, including several Shadow Cabinet members, to contribute chapters on their areas of interest. This makes both for a longer book than the other two, and a more interesting one as it can actually go into more detail in some areas, and you’re confident that what’s being discussed actually is Labour policy.

Some sections are more interesting than others, but I suspect each reader would have their own opinion on that. Personally, I found Stella Creasy’s chapter on people power and Steve Houghton on localism an interesting insight into the broader directions Labour might go in the future, while Rachel Reeves’ chapter on work was of her usual tenor in that one could imagine Iain Duncan Smith contributing a near-identical chapter in a Tory version of the book. The chapter titles – ‘An economy for all”, “Supporting modern families” and “Aspirational Britain: Empowering young people” amongst them – show the sort of studied slogan neutrality that mean they could just as easily be plastered on a podium from which David Cameron is speaking or a Lib Dem policy paper without change. There’s little in the book that’s too radical (assuming the claim that ‘Under Labour, our classrooms will be at the centre of a cultural revolution’ (p75) is a sign of someone not being up on their history of China) but it at least gives the reader an idea of Labour policy.

whyvotetoryBy contrast, Nick Herbert’s Why Vote Conservative is much more one person’s vision of what Tory policy should be. Herbert has been a Government minister during this Parliament – he was responsible for steering through Police and Crime Commissioners, amongst other things – but is now a backbencher, apparently because David Cameron didn’t share his view that he should be promoted to the Cabinet. According to Tim Montgomerie’s quote on the cover, it’s ‘a compelling reminder that the facts of economic, social and cultural life remain Conservative’ which only goes to show how easy it is to persuade him of anything. I found it more of a compelling reminder that for all Tories might talk about responsibility, they’re masters of whinging and blaming the problems of life on anything but themselves. Everything is either the fault of the previous Labour Government or occasionally, if the present one hasn’t achieved something, the Liberal Democrats, and it seems the Conservative Party only needs to take responsibility for good things.

The book is so dominated by blaming Labour for everything that you almost feel glad when he gets to a policy, except that policy is often just defined as ‘whatever Labour don’t do’ or appears to have been cut-and-pasted from a report by the Reform think tank Herbert used to run. What policy there is appears to be privatising anything that’s not nailed down then putting out a lucrative nail-removal tender before getting to the rest while stripping rights from everyone. Now, that may well turn out to be the Tory manifesto, but I suspect they’ll at least make a better job of presenting it than Herbert does here.

whyvoteldWhile Herbert is offering a slightly idiosyncratic take on Tory policy, his book at least bears some resemblance to the party’s actual policies. The same can’t be said for Jeremy Browne’s Why Vote Liberal Democrat. As Alex Marsh points out in his more detailed review of the book, Browne appears to be more interested in putting forward Coalition policies than Liberal Democrat ones, and the book feels more like an advocacy of voting National Liberal, but unfortunately published in a world where they no longer exist.

I’ve previously written about Browne’s Race Plan, and this is a better book than that but that’s mainly because it is – in the words of the old quote – both good and original. The parts that are good are pretty much Lib Dem boilerplate and could have been taken from hundreds of manifestos and party documents over the year, while the original parts are little more than Browne making the same points he does in Race Plan, with some added extra sneering at the Labour Party bolted on. As Alex puts it “the argument pretty much amounts to saying: scratch the surface of Ed Miliband and you’ll find Tony Benn underneath.”

The choice of Browne to write this book, and releasing it a long time in advance of a general election whose date has been known for some time, is one of the curious decisions that make these books a lot less useful than they could have been. As we know now, Browne’s not going to be an MP in the next Parliament, regardless of the result in Taunton Deane, and anyone reading his book isn’t going to find out much about what the party might want to do, or the range of opinions with it. Herbert’s still a backbencher, without much clamour heard for his return to Government, and these two books feel like they’ve failed to answer the question of their titles. It perhaps explains why Dan Jarvis is seen as a rising star of the Labour Party, in that he’s willing to work with others to deliver a vision, not assume that all people need to support his party is hear from him in more and more detail. If the others had followed that approach, then not only would their books have been more interesting, but their Governmental careers might have seen more success.

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Not Watching This Weekend: Eggbound 2: The Powdering

"I still have a very particular set of dietary requirements."

“I still have a very particular set of dietary requirements.”

The Pitch: Following the unexplained success of Eggbound, a sequel was inevitable. With production set to start, no original script was available so another script was press ganged into service, with names hastily find-and-replaced to match the original, and no one really caring that it moved the franchise into a whole other genre.

Brendan McPuncherson, the world’s most inexplicably Irish accented and still egg-dependent CIA agent is on a visit to London to meet an equally inexplicable friend who happens to be a Professor of Science at the Queen’s London University of Sciences. After a scene in which McPuncherson mentions the quality of British eggs (special marketing consideration: the British Egg Marketing Board), his friend is brutally murdered by a group of vaguely Eastern European terrorists (played mainly by actors taking a few weeks off from EastEnders) who want access to ‘the Device’ created by Brendan’s friend. Brendan discovers it amidst his friend’s cluttered office in a castle, and accidentally activates it, which sends him and the chief terrorist back in time to the Blitz. Brendan finds himself hunting London both for Albert Einstein, the only man who might be able to understand the Device and send him back to his own time, and for a source of egg-based protein in a country under rationing. Meanwhile, the chief terrorist falls in with a group of upper-class Nazi sympathisers, ready to use his knowledge to overthrown Winston Churchill and let the Nazis win the war.

Can Brendan find Einstein in a world where he’s weakened by only being able to eat powdered egg that he has to specially prepare every thirty minutes? Will the plucky Cockney girl he meets be able to help him and convincingly pretend to have a sexual attraction to an aging actor while deploying an accent even Dick Van Dyke would wince at? Which actor will get the chance to don the fat suit and carry the unlit cigar to play a curiously cheerful Churchill? How many historians will die laughing when attempting to watch the film and catalogue its inaccuracies? Will the promotions department be able to resist publicising it as ‘Finally, Liam Neeson Punches Nazis!’?

The Cast:
Brendan McPuncherson: Liam Neeson
Chief Terrorist: David Tennant
Plucky Cockney Girl: Mila Kunis
Deputy Chief Terrorist: The bald one from EastEnders who’s not a Mitchell brother
Chief upper class Nazi sympathiser: Tim Pigott-Smith
Other terrorists: That one from EastEnders who used to be in Hustle, Vinnie Jones, A couple of non-speaking Polish extras looking uncomfortable
Nazi sympathising aristocrat who realises the error of her ways, then sacrifices herself to help McPuncherson escape: Someone from Downton Abbey
Albert Einstein: Mark Gatiss
Winston Churchill (and most of the budget, because someone’s got to get the money to keep the Old Vic going): Kevin Spacey

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Newspaper columnists respond to the eclipse

_81787003_proba-2_view_of_europe_s_solar_eclipsePolly Toynbee:

In the summer of 1999, there were clear blue skies and a warm August day for the eclipse, which Tony Blair had ensured was happening at the family friendly time of 11am. In 2015, the eclipse was hidden behind thick clouds, only visible to rich bankers circling London in their private jets, buried away at 9.30 in the morning, when millions of workers would be slaving away for their bosses, unable to see it, even if David Cameron hadn’t arranged for there to be cloudy skies. There couldn’t be a more damning indictment of Coalition Britain.

Dan Hodges:

…and as the Moon slowly covered the Sun, pitching the entire country into darkness, what did Ed Miliband say? Nothing. The whole country was being denied the warmth and light of the Sun but he couldn’t bring himself to even issue a press-release castigating the Moon for its role in making this happen. Labour used to be a party of light, now they stand for nothing more than darkness.

Richard Littlejohn:

I’ll tell you what eclipse we should be having – eclipse round the ear from a neighbourhood bobby. That’d sort out the problems of the country. (Note to subs: please pad this out as if I was there, because there wasn’t an eclipse here in Florida)

Peter Hitchens:

For hundreds of years, the people of these islands knew just how to deal with eclipses. A young (and obviously virginal in those days before sex education corrupted our youth) member of the village would be sacrificed, the Moon would be appeased and the Sun would be returned to us with none of the ridiculous fuss we see nowadays. But now we must all stand around and watch this eclipse, and if you try to set up just a small sacrifice of innocent children (assuming you can find any in this Godforsaken country) then the PC Police will descend on you and throw you in prison. Meanwhile, the real criminals – those who would see what remains of our degraded civilization be eaten by angry and unappeased sky gods – go unpunished. That’s Britain today for you.

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Question Time needs a wider variety of panellists

BBC_Question_TimeBecause I’m a masochist, I watched Question Time last night, where one of the panellists was a representative of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Contrary to the image they present, the TPA isn’t a membership-based grassroots organisation, but a privately funded lobbying group that doesn’t represent anyone but its donors – what’s normally known as an ‘astroturf‘ group. However, like other lobbying groups and corporate shills that pretend to be ‘think tanks’ (the ones with ‘Institute’ in their names), it often gets invited to go on Question Time and other news programmes as though it has some kind of impartiality and objectivity, rather than being something established to campaign for a specific purpose.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with campaigning for something, even if that is to ensure that addressing the concerns of the wealthy and privileged is even more over-represented in political debate, but why aren’t other campaigning groups given a seat on the Question Time panel? I can’t recall anyone from organisations like Friends of the Earth or Amnesty – groups with actual memberships, often larger than any of the political parties – ever sitting on the panel, while the TPA and their ilk regularly get a seat there.

Alternatively, if the producers of Question Time are actually incapable of doing any sort of research into the people they invite and accept the spin that these people are some kind of impartial experts, why not invite some genuine experts on the programme? There are hundreds of academic experts in politics and public policy and at least some of them are safe to put on television before a general audience. Naturally, I’d suggest someone like David Sanders from Essex, but other academics and academic disciplines are available. I have been told by reliable sources that there are historians with opinions out there who aren’t called ‘David Starkey’.

They can still have the astroturf lobbyists on there occasionally if they want to, but surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find a wider range of panellists that might actually allow some facts to be interjected into the discussion occasionally?

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Not Watching This Weekend: The Remake

"I have a very particular set of broadcasting requirements."

“I have a very particular set of broadcasting requirements.”

It has come to our attention that barely weeks after its official release, one of the earliest projects of Not Watching This Weekend Studios is now being remade by a rival fantasy production studio. This gang of young upstarts, apparently known as The Conservative Party have announced plans to remake Not Watching This Weekend’s classic British comedy The Empty Chair.

Rumours also persist that this remake will change the script of the original debate, and rather than featuring a Prime Minister battling his way across a gridlocked London to avoid an empty chair, this version will instead feature a Prime Minister and his team who are so poor at negotiating that he manages to get himself into a situation where he rules himself out of any debates, and then ends up looking flabbergasted when they go on without him. (There’s talk that this will then lead up to a comic twist where the PM who can’t negotiate with TV companies will insist that he has the ability to renegotiate the entire country’s relationship with the European Union, but we think that would be straining credibility even for the Carry On Voting-esque farce this version appears to be becoming)

Some hopes for a good film were raised with news that an Old Etonian had been cast as the lead, but it appears that Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne were all unavoidably detained elsewhere when the casting director called, so the lead role will instead be played by one of the current leads of BBC Two’s Wednesday lunchtime comedy-drama Politishout! Whoever this guy is, the next David Tennant he most certainly is not.

Unfortunately, after consulting with our lawyers, it turns out that we do not have the power to prevent this remake taking place, but they do assure us that it will likely only have a short run in cinemas before disappearing. They also believe that the very existence of it – and its near inevitable box office failure – will prevent any future remakes from taking place, because surely no one would want to recreate a bomb like this.

We look forward to not watching David Cameron in his Empty Chair, and then continue to not see him for many years to come.

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Opening Sentence From A Parallel Universe Of The Day

This coveted award is won by the Spectator, who obviously weren’t paying attention to the alternative-Earth origins of the sub-editor who thought the beginning of this article made any kind of sense in our world:

Had the public been asked, before Monday morning, to identify two MPs who stood for honesty and decency, the names Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind would have been prominent among their replies.

Unfortunately, we are not yet able to offer guided tours to the world where Jack Straw stands for ‘honesty and decency’, but we’re assured it’s a very interesting place.

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Not Watching This Weekend: Helmer

"an exclaimation of annoyance, exasperation, rage or other negative factor or to expel anger, disgust, disappointment"

“an exclaimation of annoyance, exasperation, rage or other negative factor or to expel anger, disgust, disappointment”

The Pitch: It’s the early days of Twitter, and someone’s had an idea for a parody account. Surely, nothing could be more amusing than a right-wing Tory MEP who continually misunderstands things, gets his facts wrong and continually blusters and insists he’s right regardless? So, our protagonist creates the account, and finds the perfect picture to illustrate it in an illustrated dictionary’s image for ‘harrumph’. The account – called Roger Helmer MEP – begins to pick up an appreciative audience

Soon, though, our protagonist discovers that someone, or something, else is posting to the Twitter account and it’s even more in character than he’s ever managed. Curiously, he also starts to notice references to things that Roger has supposedly done in the news, and gradually he begins to realise that not only has his parody Twitter account developed sentience, it has begun to manifest itself into the real world. Soon, a person claiming to be the real Roger is giving speeches in the European Parliament and having an impact in politics, culminating in him breaking free of his creator by defecting from the Tories to UKIP (which, the film implies, may be yet another parody that’s gone too far). Now completely free of his creator’s control, can anything stop Roger Helmer?

The Cast:
Roger Helmer: A CGIed version of Geoffrey Palmer from Fairly Secret Army
Roger’s creator: Craig Roberts
Nigel Farage: Chris Morris

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